By: Amy L. Sales, Associate Professor
Much of my current work involves JData, an extensive project that gathers core data on Jewish education and makes it publicly available to communities, national agencies, funders, and others with a vested interest in building a strong Jewish educational system. The importance and utility of such a resource was made patently clear recently when we were contacted by the Jewish Federations of North America. JFNA was seeking information to inform the deliberations of a task force convened to address the issue of the sustainability of day schools in smaller communities. Through JData, we were able to gather information from these schools on enrollment, staffing, financial resources, and governance. We were able to compare their data with those from schools in large communities that also participate in JData. And most importantly, because JData is a longitudinal database that gathers information every year, we now have a system for tracking how these day schools fare over time.
The results of the initial data gathering point to significant challenges facing the day schools in smaller communities. These communities have fewer and smaller day schools than larger communities do. They lack upper grade options with the result that their high school enrollment numbers are very low. As well, they have experienced greater decline in their enrollment numbers over the past several years than have larger communities.
Two-thirds of the day schools in smaller communities posted financial losses last year. On average, they were operating at 68% of their capacity, a rate lower than the large city comparison group. Part of the cause is higher rates of attrition than elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Jewish community, students that leave a day school in a small community less often move on to another Jewish school.
This past January, I presented results of the study at the small school/community “deep dive” at the RAVSAK/PARDES day school conference in Los Angeles. The opportunity provided insight beyond the numbers. For one, it was clear that these communities felt alone. They were not aware of the similarity of their circumstances and believed it was theirs alone to find solutions. I could literally feel the relief—and excitement—in the room as they reviewed the data, joined the wider conversation, and shared ideas across communities.
It was also clear that Jewish life in smaller communities is qualitatively different from Jewish life in metropolitan areas. The difference is most pronounced in relationships among people and among communal organizations. In a large city, the day school may be considered a grant recipient. In the smaller city it is considered an anchor institution, a pillar of the community along with the JCC and the synagogues. The federation-school relationship is more often a partnership that works to build Jewish life and learning in the community.
Over the years, many Hornstein students have come from these smaller communities; most seek jobs in large cities when they leave Brandeis. The magnetism of New York, Boston, San Francisco, or Atlanta is understandable. And yet, the smaller communities offer a valuable kind of professional (and personal) experience that cannot be found elsewhere. These are places where individual agencies, organizations, and professionals can have a profound impact on the entire local Jewish community. JData’s job is to provide the information that measures and supports those efforts.
July 12, 2014 | Leave a Comment
By Nathan Vaughan, ’15
Re-blogged with permission from the URJ Camp Harlam Blog
In his book, “Why I Am a Zionist,” Gil Troy attempts to reframe Zionism to be relevant in a 21stcentury world that includes a sovereign, strong, and vibrant State of Israel. Troy contends that Jews and Zionists have a sacred obligation—to support Israel in modeling the best of Jewish values on the world stage.
A few nights ago, I sat in the Chader Ochel (Dining Hall) as listened as our Rosh Mishlachat (head of the Israeli staff delegation) speaks to our camp community about the current situation in Israel. We listened somberly as he said, “it’s not so quiet right now in Israel as we would like it to be.” Every member of the community was wearing a red shirt, a symbolic show of support for Israelis who today are constantly listening for the “Code Red” siren warning them to take seek shelter from an incoming rocket attack. Afterward, campers gathered by unit to discuss what it means for our camp community to be connected to Israel. As another symbol of this connection, over 500 letters will be taken to the Kunkletown Post Office tomorrow, each containing words of love and support from a Harlam camper, addressed to children and soliders in Israel.
There is no denying that Israel is struggling right now, struggling to find quiet with her neighbors, to uphold its obligation to model Jewish values, to find legitimacy on the world stage that other nations enjoy. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the faces of Camp Harlam’s shlichim (Israeli staff members), I’ve read Facebook posts from members of our community who are currently in Israel, and I’ve seen the way our staff struggle to balance their responsibilities to camp and campers with their own complex feelings about the situation in Israel.
The complexity we face when talking about Israel both frightens and thrills me. It frightens me because the multi-faceted conflict seems an insurmountable obstacle to peace. It thrills me because I recognize that the complexity is rooted in a sense of connection and love for each other, for our traditions, and for the values we hold as a community.
At the program a few nights back, in lieu of a traditional post-dinner song session we sang one song, repeating the same lines over and over again to various melodies. Am Yisrael Chai—the People of Israel Live. I proudly join Camp Harlam in standing with Israel today, the symbol of our ancient connection to each other and our collective aspiration to do tikkun olam—to make the world a better place.
Od yavo shalom aleinu, v’al kulam—Bring peace to us, and to everyone.
As part of the Hornstein curriculum, students spend time working in a professional role with a Jewish organization. The Fieldwork requirement is an opportunity for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world challenges facing our community. This summer, Nathan Vaughan returned to URJ Camp Harlam, where he fulfilled his fieldwork requirement serving on camp’s Leadership Team in a dual role of Teva Supervisor and Program Evaluator.
By: Evan Taksar
I will be honest and tell you that I can’t remember my first summer at camp. I can’t tell you my very first counselors or who slept above me in my bunk bed. (To be honest, I can’t even remember if I slept in a top or bottom bunk.) I don’t remember what my favorite meal was (although, it was probably grilled cheese & tomato soup) or my favorite activity. I was about 7 years old my very first summer at camp, and my first few summers are now one big blur. Has that happened to you? Or is that just me?
However, I can tell you what I do remember. I remember exactly how great I felt standing in a circle with my cabin singing Lean On Me and Danny’s Song. I remember exactly how nervous I was meeting my bunkmates for the very first time (probably as nervous as when I met my first college roommate!). I remember how magical my first Havdalah was underneath the stars. I remember that feeling of dread in the bottom of my stomach when I realized I was in my last week of the session. And I remember the very last night when my bunk vowed to stay up all night talking and giggling, and driving our counselors crazy.* (I also remember the stomachaches we gave ourselves on the last night after eating all that candy our counselors had previously confiscated.)
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Bueller?Bueller? Can I tell you a secret? I’ve never actually been to Camp Chi! It’s true! My love forLean On Me and grilled cheese & tomato soup comes from the 15 summers I spent at a different JCC camp out in California. This will be my very first brand-spankin-new summer at Camp Chi, and I could not be more excited to spend it with all of you. (Sidenote: I’m also VERY excited for the lake. I’ve never been to a camp with a lake!! So, if you need me, I’ll probably be hanging at the Cove.)
You know, the beauty of Jewish summer camp is that no matter how different each camp might seem on the surface, at their heart they all have similar goals: have the best summer, make lifelong friends, and learn more about yourself. Try something new! Write your parents letters! Don’t get sunburnt! (And seriously … have the Best. Summer. Ever.) I like to think that every year you pack up your sleeping bag and head back to camp you are choosing to open yourself up to something new; be it a new experience, new friends, new interests, or a new skill. Just like you are not the same from one summer to the next, neither are your experiences at camp! And yet, those magical experiences that always happen; the Havdalahs, the song sessions, the late night whispering with your friends … those remain the same. The details might change year to year, but summer camp always remains a wonderful, timeless experience.
The Jewish value Hachnassat Orchim roughly translates to Jewish hospitality. The Torah puts great emphasis on welcoming people in our homes, and making sure that they are comfortable. In fact, hachnassat orchim is actually a mitzvah! At camp, we often talk about hachnassat orchim when welcome new and old faces back to camp. I know what it is like to feel as if camp is your second home; just like at home, every single space at camp holds a memory or an inside joke. Your bunkmates are like your siblings, and your counselors are the coolest big brothers and big sisters on the planet. Every summer we welcome new people into our community, and every summer we return to camp just a little bit different than the summer before. Every summer is a chance to start completely fresh in a place that knows you best.
So as you begin to plan out your Shabbat outfits and figure out just where you are going to hide all your candy, think about how you have changed between last summer and this one. And if you are a Camp Chi Newbie like me, think about what sort of positive experiences you have had in your life that you want share with the community this summer. By the end of the summer, Camp Chi will feel like home to all of us, so let’s all make sure to bring with us a little hachnassat orchim.
(*I’m pretty sure we fell asleep by 11:30.)
As part of the Hornstein curriculum, students spend time working in a professional role with a Jewish organization. The Fieldwork requirement is an opportunity for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world challenges facing our community. This summer, Evan Taksar served as the Chizuk Fellow at JCC Camp Chi in Wisconsin.
In the midst of dramatic events in Ukraine our Shabbat in Odessa started in Litvak Synagogue in an atmosphere of peace and joy. Our group attended services and then was invited to celebrate Shabbat at Odessa Platinum Youth Club. It was amazing to see many young people regaining their Jewish identity after more then 70 years of oppression of Judaism in the Soviet Union. During this evening we could feel that Jewish life in Odessa is rejuvenating through energy of these young people.
On Saturday afternoon we had a “farewell” lunch. During our last meal together we shared our impressions from the trip, acknowledging that incredible work of our coordinators (Rise, Dasha, Viktor), who managed to make our trip smooth in spite of disturbing events that shook Ukraine and the whole world.
Our trip concluded at the office of Odessa Hillel where we discussed issues of Jewish identity, features of the Ukrainian Hillel operational model and special relationships between Jewish community in Odessa and non-Jews. It was very interesting to learn why Jews in Odessa rarely encounter anti-Semitism and how it is different from the other cities of the Ukraine.
Hi all (and hi mum!),
First a quick security update: we are proceeding with our program but are certainly taking security warnings very seriously and taking extra precautions. Odessa is located far away from Kiev and we are told has a very different mentality. The feeling on the streets is one of heightened awareness but that’s very much to be expected. We are all safe and have various entities monitoring the situation and guiding the decision makers.
The focus of the today was Odessa during World War 2. We visited the catacombs where we explored the headquarters of the Ukrainian resistance. It was eye-opening to see the resourcefulness of these groups including their living quarters, kitchen, workshop and communication center. It was also fascinating to hear how they were able to outmaneuver the Romanian guards by understanding the direction of the wind and being so familiar with the terrain.
We then visited the Holocaust Memorial and Holocaust Museum, both of which added to the complexity and nuance of this period of history.
Our last stop before Shabbat was to JDC’s ‘warm houses’- groups that gather to share stories and keep each other company. We split into two groups with some visiting a group of Holocaust survivors and the other visiting a group of community volunteers. The afternoon with the Holocaust survivors and the daughter of a righteous gentile was fascinating, inspiring and uplifting. We ate, drank, sang, laughed and listened. So much of what we have experienced over the last few days has been about history, the future, and the role of organizations and while these are important there is something about engaging one-on-one with people and sharing stories and laughter that touches our very souls.
Shabbat Shalom from Odessa!
Hello everyone and welcome to our second day in the beautiful town of Odessa. We had a lot of things going on today, very interesting and eye-opening.
Anna Misiuk shared her outstanding journey with us this morning about how difficult it was for Jews to live under the Soviet regime and how challenging it is at times to live in post-Soviet countries, particularly Ukraine of course. This made me think of how we must not take for granted what we’ve achieved so far as a Jewish people and always stick together and help each other when necessary. Additionally, it also made me think of how grateful I am for having a powerful and viable Jewish state.
Rabbi Avraham Wolf at Chabad and the community orphanage opened my eyes like there is no tomorrow. Seeing these little kids, which either no parents or their parents have abandoned them is heart breaking from the one hand but very inspirational from the other. Needless to say that being an orphan is terrible and parents are the most precious and valuable gift for all of us. We are lucky to have them. Thus, seeing kids without parents is very sad and makes you wonder what they were punished for like that. However, when I saw how these children are treated in that orphanage, how they’re taught everything and most importantly how successful some of them grow up to be, it warmed my heart in a way that is hard to explain. These kids are sort of heroes for me, and the orphanage does a big Mitzvah by turning them into successful adults instead of feeling sorry for them or simply neglect them. Yishar koah and may we have more people that care about the needy. One last thing to remember here: we weren’t all born equal, hence before you complain about mundane matters, think twice what’s really important and what really makes a difference.
Thanks to Yuliya, we got to go to a guided tour at the opera house here in Odessa. It was very interesting and informative to hear about the history of that great cultural place. It’s a little disappointing that we didn’t get to see a show, but whatever happens, happens for the best.
At the JCC Migdal, all of the art was created by attendees!
We ended our busy day at JCC Migdal, where the wonderful Kira Verkhovskaya was sharing her agenda and insights about the Jewish community. Kira’s sense of humor, which is common for people from Odessa, was marvelous and engaged people into the conversation. Even more than the content, Kira inspired us all with her welcoming approach and candid experiences.
That’s all for now, we are all safe and sound and hope you are too, wherever you are at the moment.
Today was a day for traveling far, both geographically and ideologically! This morning, after the earliest wake-up on record,* we took a long-distance train from Kishinev to Odessa. We passed through numerous country villages, and stopped a few times in the imaginary republic of Transnistria, but the real highlight of the trip was the opportunity to observe real residents alongside us on the train. One couple seemed to be Odessa-bound for a weekend holiday, and other travelers appeared to be on regular work trips. As we crossed into Ukraine, we had a mini-adventure with the Border Control, involving a lot of Russian and three separate officers, but our guide Dasha expertly managed the situation, and we were on our way before long. This entry might not be the place for a poetic dissertation on the romance of long-distance train travel, but be sure to ask for my photos and stories upon our return.
The Hornstein group shivers at Odessa’s beach, currently decorated with snow!
Here in Odessa, we used the lunch time for our first processing session, traveling philosophically to explore our personal perspectives on the Former Soviet Union. The group paired up to discuss how we’re each approaching the trip, listing the questions that we’re asking ourselves about the sites we visit and the people we meet. We also explored how our personal backgrounds color our perceptions, as we shared about how we each established our Jewish and national identities. This processing session, which Levi and I created together, focused on the questions that we’re asking ourselves, and the next session will focus more closely on the answers that we discover here.
Later in the afternoon, after an extensive and thorough tour of the city (I even saw the Black Sea for the first time!), we met with local young adults who are leaders at Odessa’s JCC Beit Grand. They work in different types of youth and young adult engagement, so we split up into “interest groups” to discuss camping, grassroots organizing, youth outreach, and Aliyah. I was fascinated to discover that we all experience similar challenges, despite our continental differences, but I also learned a lot from hearing about their programs, and they from mine. It was an incredibly practical and useful session, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again at Shabbat dinner on Friday night. Today was a day for stretching boundaries both mental and physical, and I’m excited for our remaining three days here in Odessa!
*in the last few days, at least. Not counting the day we left the United States.
So today we had an intense but fascinating day in Chisinau. After breakfast, we went to the city tour to explore Jewish history of Moldova and its capital. Among many sights, especially memorable was tour inside the old Jewish cemetery. There, we saw the graves of pogroms 1903 and ‘05 victims. We got on and off the bus multiple times and had a chance to walk around. It was very-very muddy around, which proved to us how impoverished the country is. At the end of the tour, we visited “central” synagogue of Chisinau and Moldova. I put quote marks there, because it hardly represents a Jewish community that once was here. Out of 77 (!) synagogues in 1940, there is just 1 left. And the Rabbi, who is 92 years old, has no successor who would wish to take his role after he retires.
After having a delicious lunch in the local restaurant, we met with Michael Shuv – JDC Director in Moldova. He was an eye-opening speaker who shared with us the situation in both Moldova and Jewish community in particular. People here are very poor. For example average pension for elderly is $80, while the prices in grocery shops are as high as in Europe! So without JDC, vulnerable Jews here would have a really hard time.
Tired but enthusiastic, we continued our day in Israel Consulate with the Vice Consul and Israel Cultural Club Director. They told us about how the institution operates in Moldova and which programs are organized for Jews, Israelis and others.
For dinner we had an amazing traditional Moldavian dish and then went to the last meeting, in Moishe House with its past and future residents (it’s in the transition mode right now). We had a lovely chat with many interesting people and learned a great big deal about how the community works from inside.
However when we came back to hotel, we saw on the news that there was violence going on in Kiev, with victims and injured people. We hope we still going to be able to spend some time in Odessa and so far we felt extremely comfortable and safe thanks to amazing organizing done by Rise and our guide Dasha.
We are looking forward to have safe travels and productive day tomorrow.
Greetings from Moldova! Today (or several days ago…we’ve been up for so long at this point I’ve lost track!) the 8 Hornstein travelers gathered at JFK to begin our long journey east. After a quick layover in Munich we landed safely–and happily–in Chisinau, Moldova. There was no rest for us and as soon as we met our tour guide, Dasha, at the airport, we had a quick and delicious lunch and began our journey of exploring the Moldova Jewish community.
Hornstein student Noah presents Alex Balinsky with a certificate of appreciation
Our first stop was a meeting with Alex Balinsky and Marina Lecartseva, President and CEO respectively of the Jewish Community of Moldova. This was a great session to start our trip with as both speakers discussed a brief history of the Jewish community in Moldova, how it has changed over time, and what the current issues facing the community are. We learned that the Moldova Jewish community has gotten increasingly smaller since World War II, with anywhere between 12,000-20,000 Moldovan Jews currently residing in the country. We also found out that Moldova only has one rabbi for the whole country! Speaking to the greatest issues the Moldovan Jewish community faces today, President Alex Balisnky stated that the Jewish community will continue to shrink because of poor economic conditions in the country, with 7 out of every 10 people leaving because of the economy. Additionally, the Moldovan Jewish community is aging, with more and more young Jews leaving for better conditions abroad.
The Hornstein students and Haverim participants speak in small groups about Jewish culture and identity
After this first eye opening session, we travelled to the Kishinev Jacobs Jewish Campus to meet with representatives from the Kedem JCC and the Youth Haverim Club. It was amazing to see how Jewish life in Moldova is being represented by these organizations, drawing individuals in from a wide variety of backgrounds. I learned the most from meeting with the teens involved in the Youth Haverim Club, an organization dedicated to fostering a strong, young adult Jewish community in Moldova. It was fascinating to hear that many of these young people didn’t become aware of their Jewish heritage until much later in their life due to issues with family documents during the Soviet Union era. Even though many didn’t discover this part of their identity until relatively recently, it was amazing to see that they wanted to be involved in Jewish life in Moldova and wanted to form a community of engaged young adults. The intimate groups encounters that we had between the Hornstein community and the Youth Haverim Club was definitely the highlight of my day.
As I finish typing this blog post, my eyes are getting droopy and my bed is calling my name. If today was any indication, this is going to be a revealing and fascinating week and I look forward to more deeply exploring both the Moldovan and Ukrainian Jewish communities!
Stay tuned for more daily updates throughout the week, and like our Facebook page for the latest photos!
Each February, the Hornstein second-year cohort visits the Former Soviet Union, to familiarize themselves with the culture and community. Today, the travelers gathered at JFK airport, eager to begin this year’s trip to Moldova and Ukraine. Together with Prof. Mark Rosen and Program Director Rise Singer, the students will spend the next week exploring the Jewish history and modern culture of Chisinau and Odessa, meeting with young adults and community leaders, and experiencing the culture first-hand.
A few weeks ago, during a trip-planning meeting, second-year MBA/MA student Yuliya brought these authentic Ukrainian nesting dolls for the group. Each student took one home, and the entire set was just reunited in anticipation of the upcoming flight!
Each day, a different participant will write a update on the day’s activities, which will be posted here and cross-posted on the Hornstein Facebook page. Don’t forget to share it with your friends!